By Grover Burnette, Sr.
(Text Transcribed, with permission from the Mellette County Historical Society, from "Mellette County 1911-1961" published by the Mellette County Centennial Committee
Photo from "Mellette County Memories, Golden Anniversary Edition 1911-1961", published by Winifred Reutter, 1961 )
Each district on the reservation, now called communities, had a roundup
outfit composed of a mess wagon and a bed wagon. In the rear of the mess
wagon was a box mounted to keep the dishes and eating tools, as we called
them. The food, flour, sugar, beans and sow belly, of course, was carried in
this wagon. A beef was butchered now and then - whenever a slick was found.
Any horse or critter found unbranded after it was weaned belonged to the one
who found it.
When the cook had breakfast ready, he pounded on a dishpan and hollered,
"Grub pile, come and get it or I'll throw it out!" Then there was a mad rush for
The bed wagon was an ordinary wagon with one or two sideboards on to hold
all of the bed rolls, tents, corral ropes, brands, chaps and whatnot.
I will mention a few of the old boys who went with the roundup and are still
living: Harris Lodge Skin, Isaac Knife, Sam Yellow Robe, Frank Lance, Jim Yellow Eagle, Charlie Larson, Charles Whipple, Bill Bordeaux,
Vern Giroux, Art Zickrick, Jim Bad Hand, Joe One Feather, Martin Iron Shooter, and myself, Grover Burnette, Sr. Not many of the old
cowboys are left in the Rosebud Country - Indians or whites. I could mention a hundred or more who have passed on to the Happy Hunting
Ground. (I may have omitted a few names, but don't be offended).
The roundup day began in the saddle at four in the morning and to bed at sundown or later every day, rain or shine. As soon as the day
broke enough to see to rope the cowboy roped the horse he wanted to ride to gather cattle for the day's roundup. Each cowboy roped his
horse over the heads of other horses, which was not easy.
Many times a wild horse was roped by mistake and then there was the job of taking the rope off the bronc. It took four or five men to pull
the bronc out of the corral and choke him down until he fell. One man jumped on his head and before he came to, the rope was released and
taken off his neck.
The cattle were gathered in the forenoons and then the calves branded many different brands. The roper had to be on the ball so as not to
make a mistake and cause the calf to be branded with someone else's brand. (It happened many times). Many cows had to be roped, thrown
and the unshed hair removed so her brand would be visible enough to brand her calf accordingly. Nowadays, the calves are all branded alike
and the roper does not have so great a responsibility. A mistake meant branding the little calf twice with a two to four letter or figure brand.
During the night each man took his turn on a two hour shift of night herd. There were four shifts of two men each for a thousand or more
Each outfit had at least 15 or more men and each, of course, had his string of horses to ride. Eleven head was a good string; one night
horse, four good cutting horses, and six long winded circle horses for gathering the cattle in the forenoon. The horses were cared for by a horse
wrangler during the day and a night hawk at night. The night hawk stayed with them until about 4: 00 a.m. then corraled them. The corral was
made of inch roped about three feet high in a semi-diamond shape. One side was fastened to the bed wagon wheel, one rope on front wheel
hub and one on hind wheel hub. Two big wooden stakes at each end and one in the middle pulled out on each side forming the corral. A prop
about three feet long with a fork at the end held up the corral rope at each end and in the middle.
After morning chow the most ambitious cowboys saddled their horses and then roped and harnessed the four horses for the mess wagon
and the two for the bed wagon.
The outfit moved a few miles each day. The cook drove the mess wagon. The night hawk drove the bed wagon and the horse wrangler
followed with the saddle horses. Each day one of the riders was selected to pilot the wagons. This was considered a privilege, and the pilot, a
top hand, was instructed by the boss where to stop for dinner or make camp.
If any cowhand shirked on the job, which was easy to do, he would be ordered to stand night guard a two hour shift. This extra night guard
was a tough penalty. If one did not observe the rules, got drunk or caused trouble he was fired from the wagon. He would then take his horses,
bunk roll, pack his pack horse and move to another wagon or home. This was an extreme penalty and I can remember of only three or four
such deals during my time as a cowhand.
I remember one time our cook got fired and one of the hands had to take over until another could be found. Cooks were few and far
between. Night hawks were also hard to find. Often the horse wrangler was a stupid cowhand, a broken down one, a young punk, a half wit or
someone of that sort.
Dick Mouse, another old timer, was a real good night hawk and worked on many a roundup. He also did a good job of wrangling horses.
He lives alone on the river near White River. (Dick, our old friend and night hawk, died while I was bragging that he was the best night wrangler
that ever straddled a horse).
Every Indian family, at least 90 percent of them, had a bunch of cattle on the Rosebud Reservation. After the white homesteaders came in,
the Indians were forced to sell their stock for lack of range-free range was just a memory. So the good old roundup days were gone for good.
The Indians rounded up their cattle and shipped them to Sioux City. A few, such as Alex Bordeaux, John Burnette, Steve and Ed Estes, Louie
Giraux and George Schmidt, did not sell but stayed in the cattle business after 1912.
Iíll close my story by telling of an incident that happened on one of the roundups in 1909 or 1910. The wagon was camped on the Little
White River north of the town of White River. The boys made a big circle that morning on both sides of the river, and I happened to be one of
the first five or six riders that arrived back with cattle. I was a young punk about 16, most of the boys were older than I.
We were hungry as always so rode up and parked our horses too close to the cookís tent while we went in and grabbed a biscuit or
something to eat. Joe Red Eye was the cook, a cocky guy and cranky. While we were inside the tent he took his horse whip out of the mess
wagon and drove our horses away. Four of the men, two I remember were Charles Bear Heels and Buff Lone Wolf, grabbed the cook and
carried him to the river bank, swung him two or three times and let him land in a deep spot in the river. I saw the sand in the bottom of the river
when he hit. He was under water a second or two and came out a mad cook but the odds were too much for him, so he took it. His durham,
paper, matches, and his watch, which he thought the world of, all got a good soaking. Everybody had a good laugh except Joe, who said a few
words which I'll leave to your imagination. I have forgotten one real bronc peeler, Joe Yellow Robe, who lives near Mission, South Dakota.
He could ride any animal on four feet. On the roundup he would put on an exhibition if someone in the outfit had a bucking horse that was
supposed to be hard to sit on. Joe would ride him some evening just for fun and I mean when Joe finished the horse was well ridden. The good
old days are gone forever. Nowadays, it is rush, come and get it or you are shut out.
Some of the First Business and Professional People of Mellette County
(transcribed with permission from documents on file at the Mellette County Historical Society by RB- Author Unknown)
Rev. A. C. Miller (Congregational) and Rev. Lane were the first missionaries in the territory before the county as organized.
Father Mcmanus was the first Priest.
Rev. VonValkenbert (Congregational) was the first Minister for the town of White River.
Edith Hight - first teacher in the White River School.
Mathers - first teacher in Berkley School. These were also first teaches in the county. The White River school opened October 4, 1911.
For the first teachers meeting Sadie Shivers, County Superintendent, sent a little Indian boy to run over and tell Mrs. Hight to come over to the
Co. Suptís office for a meeting because the other teacher had come in.
Town of White River: first sale of town lots was May 7, 1911.
First store: J. A. Brown, located at what was called Red Wing, just west and dearer the Little White River than the present location of White
First Post Office: also located at Red Wing; Jesse Brown was the postmaster.
First Hardware store: Frank and Hube Kaiser
First Blacksmith Shop: K. L. Tomsik
Charter for first Bank: (1911) John Hight and C. S. Hight
First Restaurant: Louie Gireaux
First Barber Shop: E. H. McLean
First Garage: C. P. Anders
First Livery Stable: Steve Estes
J. H. Perry - Teacher in the Upper Pine Creek day school, Sept. 1906, also was chairman of the first political meeting concerning the fight for
county seat of Mellette County.
First Board Meeting on Record of Commissioners of Mellette County, South Dakota was on May 31, 1911.
D. L. McLane, Chairman
J. A. Siegmund
Ruben Quick Bear
Frank J. Cummins, County Auditor
W. E. Hollenbeck, Register of Deeds
Jesse Brown, Clerk of Courts
Arthur Bordeaux, Coroner
Stephen Estes, Sheriff
H. A. McManus, Judge
Henry Eagle Horse, Constable
Sadie E. Shivers, County Superintendent
Chas. E. Hight, Justice of the Peace
Sadie E. Shivers was appointed County Superintendent on June 16, 1911 after T. J. Utterbeck didn't qualify for the office.
On July 15, 1911 Mellette County was divided into two school districts; East of Range 27 was District 1, and west of Range 27 was District 2.
The court house of Mellette County was built by the Townsend Brother before 1911 and is still in use* as a courthouse.